By Keith Holder
In reaction to my column last week under the headline: “Techniques of West Indies batsmen debated”, Mike Findlay, the former St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Windward Islands, Combined Islands, and West Indies wicket-keeper, who was also chairman of the West Indies selection committee, had some pertinent written remarks to make in response.
Findlay wrote: “Consider this. The current West Indies team does not have a class batsman. The last such batsman we produced was Brian Lara, who also had support from Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle were good batsmen, but they were not in Lara’s class. Chanderpaul was reliable and stable. Gayle was aggressive power. On the other hand, Lara executed his strokes with finesse and elegance. His immense talent and sound technique enabled him to play every stroke in cricket and he did so with much ease and grace.
Any top team in International cricket requires at least three batsmen of the real class who will make runs consistently. If one fails there are at least two others who could be depended on to pull the team back on track.
At the moment, we do not have that quality in the West Indies team. We have a lot of form batsmen who can make runs when they are in good form and they are facing bowling which cannot challenge them by bowling very consistent line and length.
Your assessment that the problem arises from “poor technique” is very accurate. But much deeper than that one has to understand that a sound technique does not come overnight. It has to be part of one’s “DNA”.
It must be ingrained in batsmen when they are 7 and 8 years old, maybe younger than that, so that it becomes second nature to them.
Coordination of mind and body.
This must be such, that once you don your cricket clothes, put on your pads, gloves, protective body gear, and helmet, the mind, body, and soul are at one in using the proper technique to defend or attack; clearly understanding when to adopt which mode based on the quality of the bowling being faced; being able to assess the state of the game and adjust stroke play to suit, and having the capacity to apply pressure on the fielding team to tire them physically and mentally. When that type of pressure is applied to a team they cannot function properly. They become like a distance runner whose energy has been drained mid-way through the race forcing them to drop out.
In order to achieve these high standards, any outstanding international sportsperson must be groomed from a very young age. At least 7 or 8 years so that the good techniques, the professional approach, the ability to concentrate for long periods, and all the other good qualities required become natural and are executed with the minimum of willpower.
When a player starts his development with poor techniques and continues to play that way for some time, no matter how good his coach is, it is going to be very difficult, almost impossible for him to get out of the bad habits, which have been acquired for a long time. No matter how often his coach drills the correct technique into his head, he will resort to his bad habits because by then they have become natural. When a child is learning to walk, he takes tentative steps and falls to the floor quite often. That child tries very hard to stay upright on its feet and walk.
Once that child learns to walk properly, walking becomes second nature. No more tentative steps. No more falling and getting up. Without much effort and a struggle with the thought process getting up from a sitting or lying position is no problem, except of course if the child has a physical disability that inhibits his ability to move freely.
It is much too late to start to correct the poor techniques of our cricketers at the Under-14 and Under-15 stages of their lives.
Because by then they become “made in their ways” and hard to change. We must start the process of proper and sound coaching at 7 or 8 years so that they embrace the right techniques and approaches to batting at a very early age and they become the natural way of playing the game.
This has been my personal experience. I have been told by many that I was a good wicket-keeper although I have not seen any films of my wicket-keeping to assess it for myself.
What I do know is that as a student of Primary School at the age of 9 years or so, I was playing among the men in my Village, Troumaca, on the Western side of the main island, St Vincent. I was playing for the Senior Village team before I started my Secondary School Education at the St Vincent Grammar School and first played for St Vincent at 16 years while still at the Grammar School. I continued to play 1st Division Club cricket in St Vincent into my sixties, and even at that age I never lost my touch for wicket-keeping.
Throughout my career, I worked very hard at mastering the techniques of wicketkeeping which require that you move quickly sideways to the right and left to gather the balls that come through from the bowlers; that you move forward and backward equally as quickly to collect the returns from the outfield; that you are always in a position to collect the ball in front of your line of sight with your body as a second line of defence; that you dive to gather the balls only when it’s absolutely necessary such as when they are far down the leg side, or outside off, especially when they are falling short of slips. I worked tirelessly on sharpening my reflexes in order to re-act to the late movement of the ball or to suddenly deflected edges behind the stumps, and I worked on my hand and eye coordination, and on the speed of my hands between gathering the ball cleanly and removing the bails to bring off a stumping.
In fact, I had so mastered the art of wicket-keeping, that once I was geared up for a game, the techniques automatically fell in place. They became second nature.
Like getting off the bed and walking to the bathroom. Like speaking. Like the coordination of body and mind to go about one’s daily life.
The great West Indies batsmen must have applied similar approaches to their cricket because their batting reflected very sound techniques.
They also started their cricket careers at very tender ages and their tried and tested techniques were the hallmark of their outstanding and consistent batting performances around the World.
None of us in those days were ever formally coached, but we played almost textbook cricket, correct and sound. I read every book on cricket, particularly on wicketkeeping that I could put my hands on. My objective in every match I played was to cleanly gather every ball that came through to me, and not to concede a single bye. That I achieved in 4th Test between the West Indies and New Zealand in 1972 at Bourda, Guyana. I did not concede a single bye in New Zealand’s 1st innings total of 543-3 declared in which Glenn Turner made 259, Terry Jarvis scored 182 and Bevan Congdon contributed 61 not out. The West Indies scored 365-7 declared in their 1st innings (batting first), Alvin Kallicharan scored 100 not out. Geoffrey Greenidge made 50, Clive Lloyd 43, Roy Fredericks 41, and Lawrence Rowe 31.
I was not aware of the achievement until that famous, well-respected and outstanding cricket commentator, Joseph “Reds” Perreira drew it to my attention years later.
My comments are meant to emphasise how important it is to instill correct batting techniques in West Indies batsmen from a very young age. “Teach a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.”
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional, and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (rebranded Elite in 2012) Championship for four decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org).
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